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National honour a call for re-dedication to service – Eruani

By Sadiq Omolaoye
08 October 2022   |   4:53 am
The Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Azikel Refinery, Dr. Azibapu Eruani, has been listed for National Honour by President Muhammadu Buhari. For the recipient, the award is a call for more service to the nation. In this interview with SADIQ OMOLAOYE, he discloses his plan to change the world right from his village, from his state…


The Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Azikel Refinery, Dr. Azibapu Eruani, has been listed for National Honour by President Muhammadu Buhari. For the recipient, the award is a call for more service to the nation. In this interview with SADIQ OMOLAOYE, he discloses his plan to change the world right from his village, from his state and from his country, Nigeria. He also speaks on the need for Nigeria to partner rightly with aviation giants around the world to get its national airway plans into the groove. He discloses that aside dredging and hydro-carbon refinery, Azikel Power has plans to revamp the nation’s power sector.

You have been listed for the national honour of Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic. How do you feel about this?
I am truly grateful to President Muhammadu Buhari. Importantly, it will serve as an encouragement to the Nigerian youths and the populace that if they stand up for the right things, they can be recognised for the right things that they are doing. Personally, I am overwhelmed, humbled and with mixed feelings and excitement. When I started the journey, it was with no anticipation of being recognised in Nigeria. It was undertaken with zeal and the quest for industrial liberation, infrastructural development, security, and more importantly, to add value to the Nigerian hydrocarbon as well as reverse the trend of being a net importer of oil products to becoming a net exporter of oil products. That was my core challenge and I took it very personal that someone must lead this change.

We cannot continue to complain about it. Somebody must stand up to lead the new industrialisation of Nigeria through the max utilisation and adding value to the Nigerian Republic. This was my humble beginning and aspiration. All that I am saying is to encourage all Nigerians, particularly the youths, because I stand for the youths and when I speak, it is about the country watching out for those that are desirous of building the Nigeria, and I am an example. I am an inspiration to others. Let us continue to break more grounds for Nigeria to continue making progress.

How has the granting of licence to set up Azikel Refinery by the Federal Government helped to address the challenges of refining crude oil in Nigeria?
The Nigerian private refinery venture, which I call the Buhari modular refinery regime, started in 2015. Prior to this time, Nigeria had four major refineries owned by the government. The ones in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna have been grounded for ages due probably to technical challenges. So, Buhari launched a new era of allowing private individuals to take the challenge in 2015 and I am among those granted licence. As a matter of fact, the President granted six of us licence at the very initial stage. To me, I see the licence as a challenge, as a call to prosperity and I see it as a true self-control of resources. I wasn’t going to sit with that but do everything I can to ensure that the refinery is built.

But I will tell you that building a refinery in Nigeria is no small feat. If you want to do it, the only thing I can tell you that can lead to success is that you must have an ongoing business. Yes, it is not a first timers’ business because the gestation period is long and the capital investment is huge. The challenges are enormous. That is why out of the first six licensees, not more than two succeeded. Thereafter, two years later, the President granted another 46 and out of this number, none has started.

So, this is a huge capital investment. Today, we have Azikel Refinery which is the first private hydro-skimming refinery, meaning that it produces petrol, diesel, kerosene and aviation fuel. There is also Dangote Refinery. These are the only two refineries that stand to serve Nigeria today while the rest will come along to participate in this private hydrocarbon refinery project in Nigeria.

What would you describe as the mystery behind oil theft in Nigeria?
Oil theft is a situation where some people take advantage of the pipelines that travel from the creeks in the Niger Delta. I believe when people begin to patronise real products, oil theft will be a thing of the past because what these people do is to break pipelines and begin to cook the products, but because it is not sufficient, people patronise them. So, with enough and available products, nobody will patronise cooked diesel because the scenario is that if you have ever used a cooked diesel for any of your generators, you will realise that it destroys machines. So, people are looking for products to use but they are unavailable. Azikel Refinery is not enough to meet the needs of Nigerians and that is why my intention in the next six years is to wrap up Azikel Refinery to another 100,000 barrels. That will begin to address the needs of Nigerians. So, with the availability of refined products, oil theft will stop. However, the challenge still remains that this is a very expensive venture. Nigeria should rise to assist all the investors in the sector, especially those who have shown the grit to make a success of it because it took a lot of time to get to where we are today. It is capital driven. It takes long gestation. It takes a whole lot and you must remain steadfast in the business.

As an expert in aviation, what is your stance on the soon-to-be launched Nigerian Air?
I am a pilot for fun. I bought an aircraft some years back to facilitate my business in the West Africa Sub-Region. When I fly, I used to get scared and the pilots were always trying to calm me down. One day, I made a decision. I like to confront my challenges. So, I decided to confront them. I said to myself that I am a trained medical doctor and I could do anything. I decided to take a pilot course. So, that was how I went to the United States to study how to fly aircraft and I became a US-licensed pilot. I enjoy flying. But the aviation industry is a very sophisticated one with several levels of endeavours in making it a success. Nigeria needs a carrier but the country cannot operate a sustainable carrier without the right partnership. So, securing partnership is very important and securing the right partnership is the way to go. You cannot be in isolation in operating or participating in the aviation industry, particularly in Africa. There is no part of the airplane that is produced in Africa. So, you need the right training, the right people, the right environment and the right organisations. I believe very strongly that Nigeria can make a great success if we stand with others that have achieved success. The right way to go is not for us to stand alone in the ocean, we are going to fail. For instance, Azikel Petroleum is multinational, two of my vice presidents are Americans. We have leveraged every part of the world in making this a success because technology is far advanced. We need those that have proven integrity and knowledge in operating refineries of this sort.

There are citizens of every part of the world in Azikel Petroleum – Americans, British, Europeans, Asians, Chinese and the Indians. I have built a global community and this is how we see success. By the way, the technology is not made by us. It is foreign. So, we cannot say we want to do these all alone. You need those parties that can build this together. There is no African country that has built an airplane and so, you cannot say you want to operate an airplane without having those people that are part of aviation success. If it is to paddle a canoe, we have people from Bayelsa, but this is an airplane. So, for the aviation industry, you need to partner with those that have succeeded in it. With that, Nigeria will achieve success.

British Airways has engaged people from across the world; not all the operators of Ethiopian Airline are Ethiopians. It is the same with Emirates, the operators and managers are not from the Emirates. We should learn to open our doors and bring in everybody that has the desired knowledge to contribute.

As an industrialist who wants to touch the world from home, what is your next line of action in Nigeria?
My focus has been to change the world from home. I have come to earth and I have lived here. To be remembered, I have to change the world. There are many great people that have come to earth and changed the world but I don’t want to change the world from just anywhere. I want to change it right from my village, from my home, from my state and from Nigeria. Of course I am a medical doctor and I have traversed every aspect of medicine. I went into sand business, all in the sense that I wanted to make infrastructural development possible back in the Niger Delta and that is changing the world from home. Those of you that go to the Niger Delta know that it is a swampy and a difficult environment to develop. Nobody could build in the Niger Delta with ease. Building in Niger Delta constitute about 75 per cent of sand. I made it possible that sand was never a challenge in building in the Niger Delta. I have my signature in all the infrastructure that I built in Bayelsa State and in the larger Niger Delta because I provided sand for them. That was changing the world from home. Then, I made divestment to Azikel Oil with the refinery. The next thing I want to do is to contribute my quota to power generation. I have been licensed with 500 megawatts power generation and I believe very strongly that unlocking the Nigerian wheels of industry in a very trusted manner is making power available. I want to demystify and ensure that we make this a success story. We have taken all these big but challenging ventures and I know that we can make this possible.

The next thing is making power available to all. The refinery already provides power to more than 25 communities free of charge. So, I have always been tempted to get involved in power generation because refinery has an excess of eight megawatts of power but restricted to communities around the Niger Delta. But with the ongoing power generation, generating 500 megawatts is fine. We will then begin to make the rules of the industry boom with ease. I have these aspirations and the greatest joy for me in changing the world from home is that a lot of people in Bayelsa and in the Niger Delta will begin to see that there is life outside of normal politics that people do – that an industrialist can also cause a dynamic change that will impact the lives of people. There are other things that we can also do. I have created over 1000 employments and I have people working with Azikel Refinery in various parts of the group. It is a way of telling others that with good governance, we can do better.

How would you rate President Muhammadu Buhari in the way he has handled the country’s economy so far?
Every government has its own challenges. Back here, we believe that it is God that makes leaders. We need the best of people to advance our life because as I said, good governance is very critical. In anything we do, we should continuously ensure that as citizens, we support the government in ensuring that the right things are done.

What is your advice to Nigerians ahead of 2023 general elections?
As citizens, we have the primary responsibility of choosing the right people. We have to participate in the coming elections to ensure that we choose the right people that will make the right policies that will guarantee peace, freedom and encourage investment so that we can once again make Nigeria greater than it is.

Bayelsa people have been calling you to become the state governor based on your achievements in industrializing the state. What is your take on this?
I really don’t have plans to participate as a political leader. I am an industrial leader and the wheels of industry are very critical. I cannot leave the industry as at today without driving it to a logical conclusion, to jump into another sphere. We want to encourage those that have the political sagacity and understanding but they will also understand industrialisation because this is a two-way approach. We need the industrialists and we need good governance to be able to create the right environment for our people.

There has been quite a number of calls for me to participate in Bayelsa and Nigeria politics but I have made people to understand that it is not everyone that will do that. After all, I have also participated in some kind of political activities in the course of my life. I was highly respected and successful when I served as Commissioner for Health in Bayelsa State. I built the best hospitals. But I have also come to understand that we need to build the industries. Good governance without industries amounts to nothing. We need those that will stand for the industry, and, by the way, it is more difficult to build an industry than going to participate in politics.

I will tell you for free that anybody, including you, can aspire to be a Nigerian President but the day you aspire to build a refinery, a lot of people will ask if you are having fever because any human being can say he or she wants to contest for governorship or for Nigerian presidency but not many people want to go building a refinery. You may be saying that as a joke but in reality, you know that you are not serious. Those of us that are here, we need to challenge the status quo. The most difficult decision to take is to build industries. It takes a lot of time, a lot of sagacity, tenacity, endurance and a lot of drive and focus to build industries.

For the fact that I am very committed here, I want to remain as a leader. I am already a leader and in the Nigerian industrial space and, of course, the Nigerian refinery space, Azikel Refinery is the first radical Hydro-skimming refinery in Nigeria. Everyone is looking up to me. Everyone is looking to the next advancement that I will make. So, we put ourselves there as role models for others to follow. We keep building more people with industrial acumen, zeal and success while we also encourage those that are in active politics to see that we choose the right leader. In that way, we can build a balanced society where industrialisation, economy, peace, employment and wealth sustainability strive.

What is you philosophy in life?
My philosophy in life is that you have to be focused on what you do and do your best in whatever thing you do, particularly if that thing will add value to your life.

What is your advice to this generation, particularly those who are hasty to make money?
There is no quick money that is sustainable. The award of the CFR, to me, should inspire every Nigerian positively. It should be clear to them that it is possible for them to be honoured in their country by doing the right things. You cannot make quick wealth. You must toil and that is the only way you can even manage it. When you see wealth that is spread and announced everywhere, it didn’t come right. Sustainable wealth comes with diligence. It takes a whole lot to build wealth. It is not a day’s dream. Not many people would talk about building refineries. But it is important to do this because the refinery is a secure part of the country; it is an energy security.

I started private business in 2006 with sand business and I started in a very humble way. Of course, I went to many countries to get training. I trained in Nigeria, in the United States and I have also gone to the best business schools in the world. I started at Lagos Business School; went to the London Business School and went to the University of Pennsylvania Business School. I was trying to prepare myself for the hurdles of what it will take to be able to participate in the global business environment, to understand the tenacities, the tactics and how global businesses work because as a doctor, we were trained on systems. I knew that business also has systems and if you understand the systems, it will be easier to achieve success. All of these take a lot of time. It takes more than six years to become a doctor. Most businesses will fall after five years but we have travailed all these till this time. The major thing is staying focused and be committed to what you are doing.

Your advice to young Nigerian entrepreneurs
The youths must remain committed in whatever endeavour they have chosen. There is no quick wealth and there is no miracle wealth. I do not believe in miracles. I believe in working diligently and being focused on what I do. So, the youths must remain focused. There is no time limit. Keep doing what you are doing and keep improving on what you do.